In Netflix’s shoddy movie-of-the-week thriller Hypnotic, hypnosis is used as a tool of terror, making people either do horrible things or believe that horrible things are being done to them. For someone under the spell, an hour can feel like a minute, an enviable experience for anyone actually watching Hypnotic, an unrewarding slog being fished out of the garbage for Halloween no tricks or treats, just tripe.
It’s the kind of half-assed slop that has sadly come to dominate much of the streamer’s original film content, slapdash TV movies made on the cheap and trucked out in mass for an audience who have now come to expect and accept such subterranean quality as the norm. A low budget does not, of course, have to mean low effort but it’s hard to see where any of the energy is here, making it impossible to muster up any as one watches – a film about being put to sleep that sends us there too.
It stars Kate Siegel – something of an in-house Netflix player having starred in her husband Mike Flanagan’s ‘Haunting of’ anthology shows as well as Gerald’s Game and Hush which she co-wrote – as Jenn, a thirtysomething woman struggling to get her shit together. At her best friend’s house party, while trying to dodge her ex-boyfriend, she meets dashing hypnotherapist Dr Meade (Jason O’Mara), who offers a way through her inertia. Jenn is reluctant at first but relents and agrees to go under. She awakes refreshed but a chain of events soon makes her realise that Dr Meade’s intentions might not be as noble as she thought.
After a laughably ineffective red flag of a cold open that takes a theoretically scary concept (what if you thought the walls of an elevator were closing in to crush you to death) and makes it practically incompetent, we’re then cursed with the sinking feeling that we’re about to watch a real bad movie. It’s one that then lingers for the next, at least mercifully short, 88 minutes, as things go from bad to worse to worser. O’Mara’s evil shrink is so clearly an evil shrink that the only big mystery is why anyone would agree to spend a moment alone in a room with him. Writer Richard D’Ovidio plays his cards so early that there’s barely any gas left in the engine for the remainder of his film. What’s frustrating is that D’Ovidio also scripted 2013’s incredibly diverting Halle Berry thriller The Call, a far more enjoyable woman-in-peril thriller that kept us perched seat-edge, wringing fun from its knowingly b-movie setup.
But there’s zero, nay negative, fun to be had here, a potentially interesting, if not exactly original, sub-Manchurian Candidate idea (pre-programmed victims/accomplices are activated by a phone call) taken nowhere of interest. The first draft script relies on too many instances of supposedly smart people acting like certified morons to advance the plot, an eye-rolling set of bad decisions that would seem absurd in an 80s slasher let alone a film that appears to be taking itself more seriously. Directors Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote fail to make a single imaginative choice, despite the Hitchcockian potential of the conceit, and are instead content to make the film look like it’s playing on a loop in the reception of an office building: bland and lifeless. Siegel, who was so effective in Hush (a thriller made more terrifying by a protagonist who responds to jeopardy with speedy ingenuity), is as soap-level as the film and actors around her here, a thankless vacation from her far more refined, or at least entertaining, work with Flanagan.
It’s hard to care what happens to her or anyone else in the film, even harder when you slowly figure out that no one involved seems to care either. Hypnotic is anything but.